Task Force investigating Hartford Fire Department officially meets for first time

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HARTFORD – The task force charged with investigating the Hartford Fire Department in the wake of several firefighter arrests and the death of a firefighter in the line of duty met with all five of its members in an official capacity for the first time on Tuesday.

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The group consists of four retired city fire chiefs--Chief John Stewart, Chief Nelson Carter, Chief Charles Teale, and Chief Edward Casares--as well as the current city police chief, Chief James Rovella. Stewart was named chair of the task force.

The task force started by requesting data. Chief Casares asked for the training records of each of the department’s engine companies. He also requested a list of all firefighters who have been terminated, put on administrative leave, suspended, or given written reprimand in the last 18 months.

Chief Rovella brought up the investigation into the death of firefighter Kevin Bell. He said it is nearing its final stages pending information from National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Connecticut Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

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The commencement of the task force comes after sharp criticism from some Hartford firefighters who spoke to Fox CT anonymously.

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"I see no credibility in the task force and here's why. The deficiencies that exist in the Hartford fire department resulting in the public events and embarrassments recently and the root causes that the mayor seeks to uncover have existed for some time; At least through the administration of a couple of chiefs on the task force,” one firefighter said.

One firefighter accused retired Chief Casares of disregarding the department’s drug and alcohol policy during his tenure as chief.

“He waved that in front of us. He said, you see this. I’m not following this and he threw it on the table. He said we're not here to punish people,” the firefighter said.

Casares responded to that claim after the task force meeting, Tuesday.

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"I held up that agreement and I said ‘I'm here to help people. I'm not here to fire anybody.’ In that appendix it talks about, it doesn't say I shall fire anybody, it says I got to give them help,” Casares said.

Chief Teale also asked for the task force to recuse him from discussions related to the investigation into the death of his nephew, Kevin Bell. When asked if he would be able to objectively look into training practices at the department despite a pending lawsuit against him by the current department Deputy Chief of Training Dan Nolan, Teale said yes.

“I don't think it will impact me at all simply because I'm just going to look at the records and not interacting with the individual,” Teale said.

The next task force meeting is scheduled for Jan. 29.